Why Does Your Heartburn Always Seem Worse at Night?
If you suffer from heartburn, you may notice it’s more likely to flare up at night – just in time to disrupt your sleep. Find out why and get tips to reduce it.
You get it after you eat spicy food. You even get it when you wear tight pants and belts. If you suffer from heartburn, you know that burning sensation in your chest is always unpleasant. But you may wonder why it often seems worse when you’re trying to get some sleep. Why is it more likely to flare up at night?
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Blame it on the natural force of gravity. It doesn’t work in your favor when you’re lying down. When you sit or stand, gravity helps move your food through the esophagus and into the stomach where digestion occurs.
“When you’re lying down, you lose gravity’s help in allowing your esophagus to clear food, bile and acids,” says gastroenterologist Scott Gabbard, MD. “That can allow for heartburn to happen.”
While every person’s experience with heartburn is a little different, most people have heartburn symptoms during the day and at night. However, many find it tougher to control at night.
When you eat, food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. A muscle (the lower esophageal sphincter) controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. It remains tightly closed except when you swallow food.
When this muscle fails to close after food passes through, the acidic contents of your stomach can travel back up into the esophagus. Doctors refer to this backward movement as reflux. When stomach acid hits the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce a burning sensation. This is what we call heartburn or, more formally, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
“About one in 10 adults has heartburn at least once a week, and 1 in 3 have it every month,” says Dr. Gabbard. “About 10 to 20% of adults have chronic heartburn.”
Dr. Gabbard recommends these steps you can take to reduce heartburn: